I started my career in-house before moving across to the ‘dark side’ when I joined agency life at Cognito. When I was working with agencies “on the other side of the fence” I always felt that the best results were achieved together when the team felt like an extension of our own. And this is something we strive to achieve at Cognito. This is why I jumped at the chance to be seconded to a client's office one day a week when the opportunity arose.
I have spent up to one day a week for the last 9 months working alongside the head of communications at leading financial services company and the experience has been invaluable. The opportunity to integrate within the team, discuss ideas and learn a greater depth of detail about their day to day world has been so important.
While I found the experience valuable, I was keen to find out how our client had found the experience. So I asked her some questions.
As a client, what are the main benefits of having your agency working alongside you?
A PR agency should be an extension of an in-house corporate communications team. Aside from offering additional resource, agencies have a breadth and diversity of experience and media contacts that can be engaged. Additionally, as communications increasingly evolve employing more digital-first components, an agency can perform a key role in bringing outside perspective and best practices in delivering a consolidated marketing and media strategy.
What are the most important lessons you want a secondee to take away from a secondment?
A secondment offers the opportunity to be in the client’s shoes. Spending time immersed in the environment in which your client operates offers the ability to bring a perspective that can not only support and better align with their objectives and strategy, but enable a greater understanding of their day to day challenges. The value of being able to have a 5 minute conversation over a coffee or bounce an idea that leads to a global campaign cannot be underestimated from a client’s perspective.
What are the most important skills a secondee can bring to a placement?
Flexibility. Whilst agencies present opportunities for creativity, teamwork and collaboration – being able to quickly adapt to an-house environment is a key skill for a secondee. Often an in-house communicator will have challenges and activities beyond traditional day-to-day PR activities and having a secondee who can quickly adjust from PR tactics to pulling metrics that can support a goal or objective required to create a business case, to crisis communications, creates a compelling secondee. Secondees often fill a resource or a skills gap, and being able to quickly and nimbly react and revise course is a key attribute.
Where does a secondment add most value to your team and why?
Secondments create mentoring opportunities for more junior team members and can support resource gaps as well as offer external consultant perspectives to a team looking to evolve strategies. The goal in any in-house team is to create compelling results that drive the business strategy – a secondment can help drive this.
What advice would you give to a Head of Comms thinking of a secondment?
Consider the goals and objectives you most want to get out of the secondment and create clear projects and deliverables – but leave space for ad-hoc creativity. Having a secondee who employs a consultant mindset in an in-house environment presents a unique opportunity for perspective. Take a moment to see what unfolds!
How has the secondment helped your working relationship with the agency?
Results, results, results. When a secondee is in the office beside a client, there is an opportunity for greater collaboration and discussion. The ability to be nimble and respond quickly and concisely to challenges and opportunities creates compelling results. There are the agency benefits with the in-house streamlining and efficiencies.
Kirsty Howe is an account manager at Cognito’s London office